Restoring cricket’s lost glory

All eyes in the cricketing world were on the Southwark Crown Court on Thursday, November 3. Justice Cooke was going to hand down sentences in the spot-fixing case to former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt, two bowlers – Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – and bookie Mazhar Majeed for their role in the conspiracy to bowl deliberate no-balls last year in a Test match against England at Lord’s. “The gravamen of the offences committed by all four of you is the corruption in which you engaged in a pastime, the very name of which used to be associated with fair dealing on the sporting field,” remarked Justice Cooke. Butt was sentenced to jail for 30 months, Asif for 12 months and Amir for six months. Majeed got 32 months in prison. Does the punishment fit the crime, particularly in the case of Mazhar Majeed? As far as the cricketers are concerned, in addition to a ban by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and a life of ignominy, this should be enough punishment. But it was quite disappointing to see Mazhar Majeed getting a 32-month jail term. He was the ringleader, so to speak, and should have been given maximum punishment instead of getting a lenient jail term when compared to the three fallen heroes. The jail sentences for the three Pakistani cricketers did not come as a surprise, though some were of the opinion that Amir, the youngest of the lot, should not be imprisoned, even if he is being sent to Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution.

In a statement given by Amir where he pleaded guilty, he wrote: “My dream was to be the best cricketer in the world…What I loved about the game was not the recognition or reward, what I loved was just the playing. I do not know if cricket will ever want me again. I can understand why it would not. As difficult as this past year has been…I am still relieved to have admitted what I have done.” But those who love cricket and want to restore its lost glory opine that by sending the three cricketers to jail, a principle is being established. Amir could have been one of the best cricketers but by giving in to temptation and/or pressure from Butt and the bookie mafia, he not only betrayed the sport he loved the most but also let down his fans and country. Butt, Amir and Asif have learnt their lesson the hard way. This should serve as a deterrent to all cricketers who have indulged in or contemplated match fixing or spot-fixing. Hopefully, young and aspiring cricketers would think a hundred times before ever indulging in corrupt practices. But is that enough to stop the powerful betting mafia spread all over the world? No.

What is now needed is revamping the entire system in the cricketing world. ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) has rightly been dubbed by England’s Test captain, Andrew Strauss, as a “toothless tiger”. Betting in cricket is not new. In the past, cricketers from Pakistan, South Africa, India and Australia have been accused of being involved in match-fixing or other corruption scandals. They were either fined, dropped, or opted to retire from the sport. It is important that the ICC and all cricket boards admit to their failure in curbing this menace and take steps to ensure it is stamped out ruthlessly. A regime is required within each board and the ICC to clean up cricket of corruption once and for all. Cricket fans all over the world deserve an honest game from their players. They should not be let down ever again.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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